01:53, October 31 254 0 theguardian.com

2018-10-31 01:53:05
Geoffrey Rush defamation trial: Eryn Jean Norvill accused of lying to harm actor

Eryn Jean Norvill has been accused of telling “a whole pack of disgusting lies” about the Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush in an attempt to “blacken and smear” his reputation.

During a tense and combative cross-examination on Wednesday morning, Rush’s barrister, Bruce McClintock SC, claimed Norvill had told “lies” about Rush behaving inappropriately during a 2015 stage production of King Lear.

Norvill has given evidence that during a preview performance of the play Rush had “deliberately” traced his right hand across part of her right breast while she lay prone during the play’s final scene.

McClintock challenged her on that claim, saying it was “ludicrous” to suggest Rush “would have done anything to risk the drama of that last scene” and accusing her of “lying”.

Norvill addressed Justice Michael Wigney and replied: “Your honour, I am not lying.”

She was questioned about the position her body was in during the alleged touch, and whether the audience or other cast members would have seen it occur.

She said it was possible that some cast members may have seen but insisted that it was unlikely that those in the audience would have been watching her.

“I was a corpse on stage,” she said. “I wasn’t moving. I was a dead body. So no, I don’t think I would have been that interesting.

“[The] audience I imagine was looking straight at Geoffrey Rush delivering the speech of his life.”

McClintock has sought to suggest there are inconsistencies between Norvill’s testimony and other evidence, repeatedly accusing her of lying.

Earlier on Wednesday he pushed Norvill on comments she made in press articles during the Lear production, and on an account of a conversation with a Sydney Theatre Company employee after the play’s run ended.

In April 2016 Norvill met with Annelies Crowe from the Sydney Theatre Company at a pub in Annandale in Sydney where she disclosed the allegations that Rush had behaved inappropriately.

“I told her about my experiences on Lear, we discussed whether I was going to do anything about it, what I thought had happened [and] how it had happened,” Norvill said.

In an email to STC staff after the meeting, Crowe wrote that Norvill had told her she “directly said [Rush’s] behaviour and comments were making her feel uncomfortable and she asked him directly to stop”.

She also wrote that Rush had followed Norvill into the toilets at an end of production function.

Both of those points contradict Norvill’s later statement. The court has previously heard Norvill only told Rush to “please stop” on one occasion when he allegedly ran his fingers along her back backstage.

Norvill denied putting it in those words, saying it was Crowe’s “recollection” of the conversation, but McClintock pressed her on whether she had “lied” during their talk.

“You told Ms Crowe a whole pack of disgusting lies about my client, didn’t you?” McClintock said.

“No, I did not,” Norvill replied.

McClintock also pushed Norvill on an interview with Sydney’s Daily Telegraph in December 2015 in which she said it was a “privilege” to work with Rush and she enjoyed his “cheekiness”.

“I’m not talking with a friend, I’m talking with a journalist [it is] part of my job to speak about my colleges with respect ... I understand why I would have praised Geoffrey and, you know what, I probably wanted to believe that about Geoffrey too.

“He was cheeky but that cheekiness damaged me.”

Giving evidence on Tuesday, Norvill said members of the cast had been “complicit” in Rush’s behaviour because they hadn’t acted to stop him.

On Wednesday she said senior cast members including Robyn Nevin had “enabled” Rush’s behaviour.

Nevin, who played the fool in Lear, previously gave evidence that she had not witnessed Rush acting inappropriately during the production.

“Ms Nevin has always been kind to me ... whether she enabled Geoffrey’s behaviour is a different matter,” Norvill said. “We’re from different generations, maybe we have different ideas about what is culturally appropriate in the workplace.

“She enabled that behaviour, as did everyone in that room. There was a culture of bullying and harassment in that room and in my industry.

“Sexual harassment happens often and it happened in that room to me and I believe people knew about it but didn’t know what to say [or] didn’t know what to do. They were frightened.”

Rush is suing the newspaper over a series of articles published in November and December last year that alleged he had behaved inappropriately during the 2015 stage production of King Lear.

The actor claims the articles defamed him by portraying him as a “pervert” and “sexual predator”.

The Telegraph is arguing a truth defence. The trial continues.